‘The most difficult kind of work:’ Carter, University leaders address book controversy
Security was tight and tensions high when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter took the stage in February at Glenn Memorial Auditorium to respond to controversy over his twenty-first book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.
Carter, University Distinguished Professor, spoke of his longtime efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and defended the message and accuracy of the book. The Middle East was one of his highest priorities as president, said Carter, leading to the negotiation of the 1978 Camp David Accords, a landmark peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. “I did all I could,” Carter said, “and I left office believing that Israel would soon realize the dream of peace with its neighbors.”
Nearly three decades later, Carter said, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains one of the “few high priorities” that shape his life, along with his family. He added that his hope for Palestine Peace Not Apartheid was to increase public interest in the subject.
Few would argue whether that objective has been met, as the book sparked a firestorm of criticism for what some, including a handful of Emory professors, have called errors and distortions. Fourteen members of an advisory board to The Carter Center resigned in the wake of the book’s publication. A number of Emory community members objected to the format of Carter’s appearance, calling instead for a debate with another expert such as Ambassador Dennis Ross, an author and diplomat who played a key role in the Middle East peace process during the George Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. Eleven faculty members signed an editorial that appeared in the Emory Wheel suggesting that an exchange would better “meet the educational standard of a leading university.” Ross was invited and agreed to speak at Emory at a later date.
William Schatten Professor of Middle Eastern and Israeli Studies Kenneth Stein, who resigned from The Carter Center board due to concerns over the book, gave a public talk later in February.
“One of my great difficulties
with the book is that it’s a one-sided
attempt to present a point of view,” Stein said. “. . . It’s the omissions that get to
The primary criticism claims that Carter lays the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the responsibility for resolution, squarely at Israel’s door. Carter has called for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory.
“I recognize plainly that many Arabs are also at fault,” Carter said. “This is horrible on both sides. The point is that the situation has deteriorated to the point that in this country, debate is almost nonexistent.”
President James Wagner called the Carter event “an especially visible example of the most difficult kind of work of a University,” adding that in keeping with Emory’s broad and ongoing scholarly engagement in the subject, several more events focused on the Middle East conflict and peace-building practices are planned.—P.P.P.